The attack on a UN humanitarian aid convoy near the Syrian city of Aleppo last month, which Washington has blamed on Russia, was actually carried out by one of the terrorist groups present in the area, Russian President Vladimir Putin has said.
“It was one of the terrorist groups. And we know that, say, the Americans know it too, but prefer to take a different position, to falsely accuse Russia. This is not helping,” Putin said at an economic forum in Moscow.
The aid convoy was attacked on the night of September 20. The International Committee of the Red Cross reported 20 civilians killed and 18 vehicles destroyed.
The Pentagon alleged that the convoy was destroyed from the air and that Russian warplanes were present in the area, concluding that it was a Russian strike that was responsible.
Russia denied the accusation and said a US drone was monitoring the convoy, so Washington should know the truth about the attack.
Putin also commented on the disagreement at the UN Security Council that eventually led to the cancellation of his visit to France. Paris indicated that it wouldn’t be comfortable hosting the Russian leader after Moscow blocked a resolution it had submitted.
“It’s not our partners who should take offense over us vetoing the French resolution. I’d say we are the offended party here,” Putin said.
He said French Foreign Minister Jean-Marc Ayrault had raised the idea of the resolution when he visited Moscow last week. Ayrault was told the draft pinned too much blame for the Aleppo violence on the Syrian government, but that if France made some amendments, the document could still pass.
However, as Ayrault visited Washington on the eve of the UNSC meeting, no changes were made to the draft and France also “accused Russia of all the deadly sins,” Putin said.
“Knowing our position, and not discussing it with us, they didn’t chuck in the resolution so it would pass, but [did it] to get the veto. What for? To exacerbate the situation and to whip up anti-Russian hysteria in media under their control, and to deceive their own citizens,” he added.
Russia concerned relations with US worsened, but ‘it was not our choice’
Speaking at the ‘Russia Calling!’ economic forum, Putin said that for things to improve between Moscow and Washington, the US should start acting like an equal partner and respect Russia’s interests rather than try to dictate terms.
“We are concerned with the deterioration of Russian-American relations, but that was not our choice, we never wanted that. On the contrary, we want to have friendly relations with the US, a great country and a leading economy,” Putin said.
As an example of disrespect, Putin mentioned the way Russia had been dragged into the US presidential campaign. He said both Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump have used anti-Russian rhetoric to score political points.
“They made Russia a priority issue of the entire campaign. Everyone is talking about Russia. It may be flattering, but only partially. Because all participants of this process indulge in anti-Russian rhetoric and poison the relations between our states,” he said. “This is bad for both our countries and the international community.”
Another example is how Russia was accused by the US of meddling in the election through computer hacking.
“They caused this [anti-Russian] hysteria with a sole goal to distract the public from the essence of what the hackers leaked,” Putin said. “It’s basically a way of manipulating public opinion, but for some reason nobody discusses that. They only talk about who did it.”
US intelligence officials last week accused the Russian government of being behind a series of hacks which targeted the Democratic National Convention and the Hillary Clinton campaign. The Clinton camp has pointed the finger at Putin as the source of the problems it has faced over the leaks practically since the first batch of documents was released. Russia denies any involvement in the cyberattacks.